Steve Martin opened his performance with Steep Canyon Rangers by thanking the audience for being there—saying that he knew asking us to join him for a night of bluegrass was like Jerry Seinfeld asking his fans to join him for a night of bassoon. It wasn’t what any of us expected—or necessarily wanted—from him, and he hoped we liked it.
While my ears, eyes, and soul were drinking in the music, all I could think about was “the crossover.”
In the late 90s, country musician Garth Brooks released an album under the name of “Chris Gaines.” He created this fictional persona so he could explore and release rock music outside what he was known for in country. One critic wrote:
“Judged as Brooks’ first pop album, it’s pretty good, and if it had been released that way, it likely would have been embraced by a wide audience.”
But then there’s Bob Dylan, with fans who ran for the hills when he embraced Christianity—and there’s that thing about him being booed off stage for going electric. (Though why he was booed depends on who you talk to.)
So do artists crossover to their audiences or do their audiences crossover to them? And why do some audience members follow and others flee?
In Brooks’ case, he crossed over to the audience. In Dylan’s case, the audience members interested in his new focus crossed over to follow him.
For those artists with audiences that crossover, how do they make it happen? What gets their fans to check out their other projects?
Steve Martin’s reputation is why I went to see Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers perform. I can listen to him sing about King Tut all day and The Jerk always makes me giggle. I loved him in the remake of the Spencer Tracy Father of the Bride films and ripped his New Yorker columns out of gym-and-doctor-office magazines when I was in college and too broke to buy the mag. And when he started with the books, I came along—made sense for the music, too.
So I’m the rabid fangurl type—who’d try anything from an artist she respected.
I’m also that person who tries something new based on a valued recommendation.
Martin didn’t call me up with a personal rec for Steep Canyon Rangers—the fact that he was playing with them was enough for me.
I left the performance ready to buy Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers’ new album Rare Bird Alert. I was a crossover for Martin and a new audience member for Steep Canyon Rangers .
My husband falls into that group that will check out something new based on a rec, too, but in his case, he also reps the group that didn’t make the crossover. He can recite every line of Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, but bluegrass music? Not so much his thing. I was glad he gave it a shot—and though he won’t be groovin’ to their sounds anytime soon, he has a greater respect for Martin and now knows about Steep Canyon Rangers, too.
It’s hard to go to your audience and ask them to join you for a night of bassoon, but as artists, you do it and hope for the best—and you try to make access easy, hence the bundling of The Warrior Ethos and The War of Art audio books.
And as someone promoting crossovers, you bite your nails and ask people to give a new project or different side of an artist a shot—and you do it in a passive aggressive manner because you don’t want to sound like a PR spin-meister, which is what so many people think you are. You are aggressive in letting others know that you believe so hard in this one artist, that this isn’t about spin, but that you know there’s something amazing going on and if they’ll just give it a shot . . . And, though a few might walk out pleased, but not a buyer like your husband, you know that you’ll have still reached success because another side of the artist was presented and there’s those people who did sign up for a longer trip. And that might not translate into all the sales you hope for, but it means some of the non-crossovers liked what they saw enough to rec. it to others, which is good stuff and movin’ in the right direction, too.
It’s hard to make the crossover. As artists, you want it, and encourage it, but there’s that bit about connecting with others, and developing new audiences, too.
Martin’s reputation is why I checked out Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers music. They are all why I became a crossover fan.
***Last week I asked if book videos work. Here’s a new one by Steve Martin & Steep Canyon Rangers. Check it out. This one worked for me, hence the sharing . . .
And if you’ve never seen Martin’s “King Tut” check this one out—he did it with Steep Canyon Rangers, too.